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01 December 2012


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Alba Etie

Could we have captured UBL alive ? And could we have held him safely for a trial ?


Firstly Alba - if Bin Laden was taken alive and held by America, no American in the world would have been safe from kidnapping.

Secondly Kieran - great article. I would like to draw your attention to Sir Michael Howards slim book - "The Invention Of Peace" which grew out of a United Services Institute lecture he delivered.

Sir Michael's argument - which resonates with what you have written, is that peace is an invented human condition and it is an invention of the modern nation state which imposes the requirements for peace on its citizens.

The trouble - to which you allude, is that the nation state as an organising principle is weakening around the globe, and that leaves a vacuum for trans national criminal and political enterprises to thrive - and directly challenge nation states.

Examples abound: Al Qaeeda, Mexican drug Syndicates, God knows how many separatist organisations, especially in Africa. Here in Australia we are having to come to grips with the biker gangs (Hells Angels, etc.) who have developed into a serious drug financed menace to the point where we are having to look at Constitutional means to proscribe them and shut them down and they are fighting back with the best lawyers money can buy.

As you point out, the alternative to treating their activities as criminal is endless, destabilising and very nasty kinds of war, especially if advances in technology allow non state actors access to advanced intelligent weaponry let alone chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

To put that another way, how long before the Zetas or their ilk use drones to ferry their drugs into the U.S.?


Excellent points, IMO.

I took a position reminiscent of this in 2004. On that occasion I was the nail, and I got to experience the hammer. We should try to reason through this again. Jeh Johnson's statements give me hope, but we must recognize that CT is BIG business, and the "war" footing will not be surrendered easily.

Babak Makkinejad

Under what statutes?


Amen, Kieran.

Given the mood back then and the political upside of looking strong, things were probably destined to trundle down the unfortunate route they did. To have managed a saner response along the lines you recommend would have required extraordinary statesmanship.

Quite apart from the many disasters that had to follow the chosen course, though, what a waste of a glorious positioning opportunity. America's soft power would have been off the charts for generations to come.


Yesterday I was reading S. Walt's column:

Confusians seek to explain why states act as they do, they start by assuming that leaders do not understand the problems they face, have only a vague sense of where they want to go, and no idea at all about how to get there. Instead of starting with the rational actor assumption beloved by economists, realists, and most liberals, Confusians hone in on all the reasons why humans typically get things wrong.


The Twisted Genius


You have said what I have thought for many years in a manner far more clearly and elegantly than I could have done. If it is a war then the attack on the Pentagon was a legitimate target and the casualties were merely KIAs or, at best, collateral damage. Unfortunately, Basilisk is right. The GWOT is big business, worth a lot of money to a lot of people.

Babak Makkinejad

And I suppose the long periods of peace under dynastic rule in China, and in Kirea does not count?

Or the Tokugawa Shogunate?

And numerous others?

So we are to believe that, yet again, takes the Whiteman to come and create an idea and its application?

I think Sir Michael needs to get out more and interact with other people; he has been in that little island off the coast of Eurasia for far too long.

As for Africa; more than 2000 years of internal warfare on that continet caused by the voracious demand for slaves by the people of Europe, Americas, and the Near East must be taken into account before a historical judgement could be made on the veracity of Sir Michael's thesis; in my opinion.

Peace can be resotored in Mexico if sufficient amount of brutality and violence is applied by the state - as yet that has not happened.

FB Ali


An excellent article. The points you make are valid -- in principle. In practice, all sorts of vested interests step in to seize the moment (or subsequent ones) to further their self-serving agendas.

Will Reks




On OBL, there is abundant evidence that there was no practical problem to capturing him. A detailed investigation by a Pakistani Brigadier spells this out. Also, it is not contradicted by the account published by that SEAL. The orders were to kill him.

Why the lack of interest in his intelligence value? One answer is that the costs of giving him a public forum, and the embarrassing revelations that might emerge, outweighed the intelligence gain. Another explanation: vengeance. Isn't vengeance really what the "war in terror" and Iraq was all about? Especially in the earlier years before it became an industry.


The statement in Oxford appears more like a trial balloon. The Islamic extremists are being eased in to power in many countries. That means in future some would find that the stateless terrorists groups have morphed in to State terrorism. The current war against groups would lose its surreal legitimacy but the war against terrorist states or the countries that sponsor terrorism can continue indefinitely and would remain legitimate like the cold war was.

Hardly anyone believed that Iraq was connected to terrorism, despite all the hoopla. It is hard to pin Sunni Terrorism on Iran. Now we would have Sunni states ruled by parties like Brotherhood that are closer in ideology to Alqaeda. Talks with Taliban are already underway to finalize a formula that will bring them back to Kabul. Syria is being primed to be ruled by Salafis/Takfiris/Wahabi groups.

“our enemy does not include anyone solely in the category of activist, journalist, or propagandist”.

The observation on the comment above makes sense: "Johnson’s remarks, evidently inspired by a tortured awareness that our present ‘state of 911’ is far from healthy, are nonetheless guided by an unwavering commitment to the underlying premise of the War on Terror, this “new kind of war... an unconventional war against an unconventional enemy” - the fateful premise that it is actually a war."

Yes! it is all about turning an unconventional war in to a conventional one without losing the premise, as you concluded.


Babak I am talking about relations BETWEEN states not their internal states of affairs except in as far as their ability to impose the terms of international treaties on their own citizens. To put it another way, I'm talking congress of Vienna.

As for China and Japan, my understanding is that they were far from peaceful internally but that is another matter entirely. To put that another way, would you classify the current situation between Israel and Palestine "peace"?

This is not a racial thing. I am talking about the ability of a nation to impose the terms of international treaties it has enterted into on its own citizens - that is what is breaking down around the world. Whether its Zeta drug cartels, Russian Mafia, international biker gangs, Israeli "settlers", Al Qaeeda, the muslim brotherhood, The Lords Army in Africa, nation states are having a tough time asserting their authority in the face of trans national crime.

The only historical precedent for this might be the assassins (hashish(?) but I don't know how far their writ went.

By way of example Two weeks ago the story broke about a foreign yacht that was washed up in Tonga, with 200kg of Cocaine bound for Australia with a dead slovak national on board the whole thing organised by an Ecuadorian drug cartel. This type of frequent trans national crime was the stuff of fiction Forty years ago. Now it is common.

Clifford Kiracofe


Yes. Basilisk and TTG nail it. This is BIG business, billions of dollars.

Of course we must defend ourselves from enemies. Logically, the appropriate reponse depends upon a realistic assessment of the threat itself.

Terrorists could be viewed as "pirates" for example and treated accordingly.

Looking at your points in another way, I would raise the issue of the politics. That is, the creation of "states of exception" or "states of emergency" so as to justify the eradication of civil liberties and the construction of the "national security state."

The threat from "terrorism" is used to create the states of excepetion and emergency.

This process was very carefully through out by the chief Nazi jurist: Carl Schmitt.

Schmitt's concepts have been well assimilated in the US legal profession/law schools not to mention the academic world of political science and philosophy. This is a result, in part, of the Straussians and their successful method of penetration.

Anent UBL: Sudan would have turned him over to the US but the US refused to take him. Susan Rice was Asst Sec State for African Affairs in the Clinton Administration at this time and reportedly was a major player in the refusal together with her mentor Madeleine Albright. Were the papers Sandy Berger stole from the National Archives relate to this? Just curious.


This excellent post starts us off in avery good direction to reestablish the rule of law, and to be more selective and judicious in the deployment of our military. It seemed clear to me, in the Fall of 2001, that a bit more time and concentrated pressure on the Taliban would have resulted in the delivery of alQaeda's leadership to US justice. Given that Pakistan seemed to have more or a role to play in alQaeda's development and operation than the Taliban, and everyone's desire not to become the target of US wrath, alQaeda looked eminently expendable.

Mr. Kirakofe's point of the Sudan's earlier willingness of offer up bin Laden, reinforces my point, and calls for greater examination. In either case, imagine the savings of time, life and treasure that could have been realized. The inconveniences of the nuances of detention, trial and adjudication, and any uncomfortable information that might have come to light are trivial and might have been salutary.

In the Middle East and South Asia, our 'War on Terror' has conducted regime change and nation building in two nations, to rather poor effect. It does not seem to have advanced US commercial interests greatly, brought other nations to heel or to have allowed US foreign policy to expand its remit. It has increased the power of Saudi Arabia, and their ability to expand the reach of their conservative and aggressive version of Islam - not only to Iraq (where the embattled Sunni minority is desperate for any protector) and Afghanistan, but also Pakistan, and now to African and Asian nations, not to mention the support of mosques throughout Europe and in the US. Rather than fulfilling the Neocon's strategy, it has left Israel in more difficult circumstances even as Arab governments have been weakened militarily and fractured politically. And it has greatly reduced our ability to deal productively with Iran.

As for uncovering facts awkward to governments, this is managed in other judicial matters, and some sunlight on what has been festering in the dark could be healthy. The US Justice Department contends regularly with people who have security clearances or access to classified information that might be sensitive or simply embarrassing. We have had the jails and facilities to contain dangerous criminals. Our criminal justice system has managed quite well against other armed, murderous conspiracies, whether they formed for monetary or political gain, citizens or foreigners, and even those with religious motivations. We obtained General Manuel Noriega in a military action in Panama, and I believe he still enjoys the hospitality of federal prison, having been convicted at trial. Maybe the World court would have preferred to host any trial and following detentions, but that could have been worked out at leisure.

Trial and imprisonment would have done more to break alQaeda, and more importantly affected the sympathies of the rest of the Muslim world, more than our military actions have. Our invasions and wars have effectively proved bin Laden's point that the US and the West intrude and despoil the lands of Islam at their whim, profaning Mohammed and degrading his followers. If the trial was fair, open and based on evidence, alQaeda would have been abandoned by all but the jihadis. It seems we have forgotten that the Nuremburg trials worked.

The other main claim of bin Laden was that the West and the US in particular are weak, craven and decadent. Blindly returning violence for violence does not say much for the superiority of Western civilization. It would have been a stronger response to show that we could absorb the losses of 9-11, sorrow for and honor the dead, and then methodically and legally bring the perpetrators to justice. Our 'War on Terror' instead communicates that we live in fear, that we value personal safety over liberty, and that we will spend profligately and ineffectively, give up any rights and upend society when threatened. Let's also not forget the message sent, when we had alQaeda nearly mopped up in Afghanistan, and we lost focus to chase the shiny object of Iraq like some ADD teen. I predict that bin Laden's strategy and tactics will be intensively studied by other terrorists trying to glean the nuance and secrets of his jiu jitsu.


Much of what has been said about this here makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, it would require a cultural revolution to do something about it and all revolutions are messy.

One way would be to move the federal government into temporary housing in the Oklahoma panhandle and let them take the lobbyists with them. Thus Mother Nature would from time to time enforce term limits and shorten those incestuous relationships funding various "wars".

Babak Makkinejad

Thank you for your reply, I understand you now.

I do think that the Congress of Vienna itself had its predecssor in Peace of Westphalia.

On the level of ideas, I think much is owed to the Medieval Christian thinkers.

I cannot cooment about international crime since I do not know the size of them.

I am also wondering if the Europe of post- World War II has been an aberration; that Europe, both Eastern and Western, in the absence of the United States, are going to descend into the same "warring states" situation as before.

That is, military occupation of Europe, by states like US and USSR, have been the cause of the Post WWII Peace.


I believe that most Europeans never understood the "war on terror". Many European countries had (and some have) terrorism applied against the state. It is always fought as a crime and usually quite successfully.

Meanwhile the "war on terror" seems to have become just another reason to fight this or that "war for profits".


Only slightly OT

A long read written by Carl Prine

Three Iraqi kids killed for nothing, investigation recommends murder trial, army covers up.


Army investigators determined that Barbera committed two murders and lied to officials about what happened. But generals at Fort Bragg refused to put him on trial. Instead, the 82nd Airborne Division slapped the New York native with a light reprimand and promoted him.

He's now a sergeant first class at Alaska's Fort Richardson, according to Army records released to the Tribune-Review.

Barbera declined comment to the Trib.

In the years that followed the slayings, wounded soldiers in Barbera's squad told the Trib they were punished for blowing the whistle on acts they consider tantamount to war crimes. They say the Army covered up the killings to protect higher-ranking officers and to uphold the image of Fort Bragg and the 82nd Airborne.

They believe the boys' deaths triggered twin reprisal suicide truck bombings that destroyed their outpost and killed 10 fellow paratroopers.

Charles I

I was just about to post the link and ask the same question. They are being trained by the CIA to compete with the CIA - at least for resources and cover.

Given the astounding ignorance, esp. cultural and social, displayed in various kinetic prosecutions, I'd say its a good thing. Given that the intelligence is then sometimes used in perhaps supra-constitutional or internationally illegal ops, not so much.

I will say that this forum has increased my confidence and respect for the military in general, and soldiers in particular, with inverse affect w/r/t civilian leadership and governance - who deploy this stuff.

Charles I

Retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno has weighed in on the required size of a post war Afghan CT presence to rebut the Kagan's latest 30,000 needed column of Nov 23.

The Kagans: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-us-troops-must-stay-in-afghanistan/2012/11/23/e452bb92-3287-11e2-9cfa-e41bac906cc9_story.html

General Barno:

"How to fight in Afghanistan with fewer U.S. troops

Kimberly and Frederick W. Kagan’s . . .logic and conclusions about the resources required are flawed. It is possible to protect U.S. interests across that region after 2014 with a force in Afghanistan of 10,000 or fewer American troops. . .

. . the United States is already performing the very counterterrorism tasks required in Afghanistan across the globe without committing 15,000, 20,000 or 30,000 troops or the huge logistical and advisory overhead that the Kagans describe as vital. Moreover, in no other U.S. counterterrorism effort are the host-nation security forces the formidable size of the Afghan force — more than 350,000 soldiers and police.. .

Although the U.S. surge produced many battlefield gains, it did not bring about any significant improvement in the country’s governance or pervasive corruption. These intractable shortcomings are unlikely to be affected by any number of additional U.S. troops before or after 2014.

The Kagans’ proposal for an open-ended commitment of more than 30,000 U.S. forces would conservatively cost taxpayers more than $30 billion a year. That would far exceed the combined current U.S. assistance to Israel, Egypt and Pakistan.

Defending our vital interests does not demand a long-term force of this size in Afghanistan, any more than it does today in Yemen, Somalia or Mali. What is required after 2014 is assured access to bases when needed, the maintenance of robust intelligence networks, a modest security cooperation effort and a small special operations force for counterterrorism and counter-proliferation response. Covert programs such as drones will continue to play important, less visible roles. And more robust mobile forces can remain on call outside Afghanistan, should circumstances warrant bigger strike operations of short duration.

Carefully limiting the tasks of U.S. troops inside Afghanistan could permit them to remain poised for missions in support of vital U.S. interests, rather than becoming drawn into securing supply routes, large bases and Afghan territory. A smaller, less conspicuous U.S. force would have the important advantage of being less obtrusive to the Afghan people and thus would be more likely to have the support of the Afghan government."



Lieutenant General David W. Barno Joins CNAS as Senior Advisor and Senior


If it works elsewhere, why not Afghanistan? Sunken costs? $400.00/gallon jet fuel?


Charles I and WillRreks

They are not being "trained by the CIA." The farm school is a joint activity of DIA and CIA. My friend and mentor Robert K. Sawyer made that happen. This article was based on a CIA controlled leak intended to rally support against DIA. CIA generally regards DIA as "the real enemy." Apparently LTG General Flynn, the DIA director, responded to press inquiry by giving the Post an interview in self defense. Further evidence of the CIA origins of this article is the statement that Defense HUMINT has been thought "inferior" to CIA. Rubbish. I have heard exactly the opposite from objective CIA people. I founded the Defense HUMINT Service from bits and pieces of earlier programs. That was renamed Defense HUMINT when Department of Homeleland Security came into being as a ministry and now it will be the Defense Clandestine Service. God bless Them Every One. pl

Charles I

From Spiegel.de Nov 29, 2012

"The Ruthless Rise of the Nazis in Berlin

By Uwe Klussmann

In the mid-1920s, Joseph Goebbels was given the difficult task of fostering support for the growing Nazi Party in Berlin, "the reddest city in Europe besides Moscow." But, by 1933, a combination of street brutality and political smarts succeeded in catapulting the party past rival parties."


The Twisted Genius

Will Reks and Charles I,

This is more a return to normalcy than a major change of direction for DOD human intelligence collection. During the "heyday" of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, DIA collectors of all kinds were either going to, returning from or in the war zones. All other missions languished miserably. The only thing that really grew was the bureaucracy. And most collectors, the real collectors, did not want to spend their careers in that bureaucracy. The plan to put more collectors in the field, especially overseas, is a welcome and smart move.

Training for CIA and DOD case officers has been collocated for a very long time and fully integrated for much of that time. No change here. It will still be tough to train a significantly larger number of case officers. The hardest part will be to put a significant number of case officers overseas in covered positions where they can operate effectively. Effective cover is extremely difficult to develop and even more difficult to live for an extended period of time... and I know a lot about cover.

Babak Makkinejad

I think Carl Schmitt had articulated certain empirically valid ideas; e,g. his idea of "executive exception/emergency" certainly had been nascent in Abraham Lincoln's suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus as well as by trepeated intervention of the Military forces in Latin America as well as in many Muslim states in what was supposed to be representative governments with the usual notions of separation of powers.

Charles I

Thanks, it does seem that we, er, you, would be wishing to send people where westerners stick out like sore thumbs. And will intelligence be contracted out, or have to compete/deal with contractors?

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